The biggest problem with online teaching (and how to solve it)

Picture a class of six-year old’s learning English. What do you see? Dancing? Coloring in? Flashcard games? Face-to-face lessons are naturally kinesthetic, meaning more blood flow to students’ brains, more engagement, and more variety. Online ESL classes can be the opposite: fidgety students struggling to overcome the compulsion to move. As online English teachers, we need more movement in our online classes. Where to start? The 5 ‘i's.



Ask students to jump, clap, stamp or something similar as part of an activity. If you’re drilling language, students can clap on the stressed syllables; if it’s a phonics activity, students stamp their feet when they hear a certain sound; if it’s a guessing game, students jump whenever they say a word.



Ask your students to impersonate (or ‘mime’) the target language. Try: one mimes while the rest try to guess, or one says a word and everyone else mimes. If you’ve played charades, you’ll know this is not limited to animals and action verbs.


in your room/house

Most students take online ESL classes in their own houses, meaning they have more realia in grabbing distance than any lost and found storeroom in you can imagine. Try scavenger hunts (with time limits) and reward the first student back at the screen with realia in hand. No face-to-face class could ever be this personalized.



If you’re in an online ESL class, you must be on the internet. Get your students to search for examples of target language online and then ‘share-screen’ to the rest of the class. Works best with things not commonly found in student’s rooms/houses (see above).



Just because you’re online doesn’t mean your students can’t use pen and paper now and again. Illustration activities include: one student draws something, everyone else guesses what it is; one student describes something, everyone else tries to draw it within a time limit (“it has two heads, seven eyes, one arm, one leg and a tail!!”); students draw their own flashcards and then you can play any flashcard games you can think of.


Online and offline learning might be different, but the students are the same. Next time you see the person on the other side of the screen fidget, deploy one of the 5 ‘i’s.